Board game puts Amazon resource management to the test

June 14, 2010

A role-playing game that uses multiple colors and squares to represent different landscapes has been developed by researchers to study the forced human migration of farmers to a remote Amazon jungle region of Colombia. The game examines land use decisions and survival techniques of local farmers in this largely ungoverned region. It was the first such study conducted in Colombia.

The results of this study are in the journal Environmental Modelling & Software. The article is available" target="_blank">here. The research is a collaborative effort of scientists from Arizona State University, Javeriana University, Bogota, and the French Agricultural Research for Development, Montpellier, France. Download Full Image

“Farmers migrated to the Amazon from the Andes Mountains due to socio-economic reasons or armed conflict,” said Daniel Castillo, the article’s co-author and a research scholar at ASU’s" target="_blank">Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, a member of the" target="_blank">Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems. “The Amazon was largely untapped and the fertilized land offered migrants an opportunity to create a better life. One of the more interesting findings we discovered was that the farmers needed to make money when they arrived to the area so they initially planted temporary small patches of illegal crops to generate income. This was quite a common pattern.”

Castillo said the farmers grew coca, the primary ingredient for making cocaine, and sold the substance to the local armed forces or drug smugglers for a substantial profit. He added that the money the farmers earned from harvesting coca provided them with the resources to start a cattle raising business, a lucrative and legal endeavor desired by many farmers because it offered more stability.

Six peasant farmers, or colonos, participated in the role-playing game. Each farmer was given a plot of land divided into numerous squares; each square represented approximately two acres. The land included forests, grasslands, stubble, crops, water bodies and horses.

The game was created based on the analysis of satellite images of the Amazon from 1988-2001 and represented deforestation of the Amazon region as a result of land use decisions caused by the establishment of pastures for raising cattle.

Each player had to make decisions based on several criteria: the establishment of pastures; the decision to transform land cover to pasture; maintaining pastures; establishing crops; and conserving forest plots.

The game spanned a four-year period. The players were given fictional money to purchase farming equipment to begin harvesting their land. To generate income, the farmers had to sell their products at the market.

Manuela Vieira Pak, co-author and researcher at the French Agricultural Research for Development said that throughout the role-playing game individual and collective decisions were identified, as were the factors that drive the land transformation dynamics. By analyzing the property dynamics, the players made common decisions for the management of their properties.

"The game became a tool for a dialogue with peasants and other actors such as bankers, traders and environmental authorities, on deforestation in an armed conflict zone,” Vieira Pak said. “We could observe how individual decisions affect collective deforestation, we could understand the dynamics of production systems in the region, and finally we identify the main factors driving the current landscape transformation. It was the first time a role-playing game was used in Colombia for complex systems analysis in natural resources management."

Castillo, who is also a professor at Javeriana University, said, “The game helped us to better understand the contextual factors that influence the decision-making of the colonos regarding land use, the direct decisions in land cover transformation at the individual property level and how they generated landscape dynamics in the region.”

He added that they will use the current data to develop an agent-based model allowing them to expand their research. With the new model, they will be able to increase the number of players and create multiple scenarios to see how the farmers respond to various environmental factors. The data they gather will help them determine the most effective land use decisions. They plan to provide their findings to the government agencies that oversee the Amazon region of Colombia.

Written by Scott Southward" target="_blank">
(480) 965-4193
Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems

Ryan Whiting selected for Pac-10 Tom Hansen Medal

June 14, 2010

National champion thrower joins soccer standout Liz Harkin at Arizona State's honorees

Ryan Whiting, a senior on the Arizona State track and field team, has been named a 2009-10 Pacific-10 Tom Hansen Conference Medal of Honor recipient, the Conference announced this week. Awarded annually to each member institution’s outstanding senior male and senior female student-athlete based on the exhibition of the greatest combination of performance and achievement in scholarship, athletics and leadership, Whiting is joined by Liz Harkin of the Sun Devil soccer program as ASU’s honorees this academic year.

One of the top collegiate shot put competitors in NCAA history, Whiting recently won the national title in the discus at the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., to give him five career titles with his discus crown added to three-consecutive indoor shot put titles and last year’s outdoor shot put crown. The clear national leader in the shot put this year, Whiting has recorded marks of over 70-feet in seven competitions for nine total in his career, both of which are the most all-time (second place is four in a season and six in a career). Download Full Image

Currently ranked second in the world, Whiting won the Pac-10 title before adding the NCAA Preliminary Round West Site title two weeks ago where he set a school record with a toss of 21.83m (71-07.75). With one collegiate competition remaining for Whiting, he will once again take aim at the collegiate record of 22.00m while battling for his fifth career national shot put title.

Outside of his athletic achievements, Whiting has found great success in the classroom and has maintained a high grade-point average throughout his career. For his efforts, he has been selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII First Team each of the last three years (including 2010) and, in each of the past two seasons, was selected as an ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American (the 2010 team has not been announced yet). He also has been selected as the 2008 USTFCCCA Men’s Division I Indoor Scholar-Athlete of the Year. On the conference level, he has been honored three times each by both the Pac-10 (outdoor) and the MPSF (indoor).

Whiting’s selection for this award makes him the 10th Sun Devil to be so honored since ASU joined the Pac-10 Conference in 1979 and makes him just the third track & field man to earn the award, joining Brandon Strong (2002) and Kyle Alcorn (2008). Alcorn and Jacquelyn Johnson were the last two track & field standouts to be honored as both earned the Medal at the end of the 2007-08 season.

Whiting and several of his teammates will compete in the NCAA Championships Friday and Saturday in Eugene. CBS will carry live coverage of the action on Saturday, including the shot put finals, starting at 10 a.m.
2009-10 Pacific-10 Tom Hansen Conference Medal of Honor Recipients
Arizona - Jean Basson (Swimming) & Justine Schluntz (Swimming)
Arizona State - Ryan Whiting (Track & Field) & Liz Harkin (Soccer)
California - Jerome Randle (Basketball) & Hana Cutura (Volleyball)
Oregon - Ashton Eaton (Track & Field) & Keshia Baker (Track & Field)
Oregon State - Diego Velasquez (Golf) & Mandi Rodriguez (Gymnastics)
Stanford - Toby Gerhart (Football) & Carly Janiga (Gymnastics)
UCLA - Mustafa Abdul-Hamid (Basketball) & Kaitlin Sather (Softball)
USC - Jeff Byers (Football) & Kelly Lucas (Water Polo)
Washington - Nick Taylor (Golf) & Danielle Lawrie (Softball)
Washington State - Matt Lamb (Track & Field) & Kiersten Dallstream (Soccer)

Pacific-10 Tom Hansen Conference Medal of Honor Recipients - ASU Track & Field Honorees
1989 - Jacinta Bartholomew
1991 - Gea Johnson
2002 - Brandon Strong & Kelly MacDonald
2003 - Lisa Aguilera
2007 - Amy Hastings
2008 - Kyle Alcorn & Jacquelyn Johnson
2010 - Ryan Whiting

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library